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Kinds of evensong

by
02 October 2015

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I hear terms such as “choral evensong”, “solemn evensong”, “sung evensong”, and just “evensong” used. What are the differences?

 

This diversity reflects the many ways in which Anglican evensong can be used in worship. There is the obvious difference between a quiet evensong, said daily throughout the year and held in the side chapel of a village church, and those occasions when and where the Office is enhanced by music and ceremonial.

In “Quires and places where they sing”, choral evensong is a noble offering of music performed to standards of perfection, at which members of the congregation have a passive role of silent worship. The choir sings elaborate settings of the versicles and responses, the evening canticles, and an anthem.

Cathedral choral evensong has won universal acclaim as the crown of Anglican worship. Louis Bouyeris often quoted: “the Offices of Morning Prayer and of Evensong, as they are performed even today in St Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, York Minster, or Canterbury Cathedral, are not only one of the most impressive, but also one of the purest forms of Christian common prayer to be found anywhere in the world” (Life and Liturgy, Sheed & Ward, 1956).

Many parish churches also have the resources to maintain this style of evensong, even if only within a pattern that alternates with a more simplified sung evensong, at which the congregation participates in singing the Psalms and canticles to well-known chants.

Solemn or festal evensong (as it is advertised in churches where incense is not customarily used) may be either a fully choral or congregrationally sung performance of the evening service. Ceremonially, the officiant, attired in a cope and attended by acolytes, sings the Office within the sanctuary and, when incense is used, proceeds to cense the altar during the Magnificat.

In whatever style the evening Office is celebrated, it makes a worthy offering of the opus Dei when the Church comes to the “sun’s hour of rest, [and] The lights of the evening round us shine”.


(Canon) Terry Palmer
Magor, Monmouthshire

 

Your questions

 

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